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RWC 2023

Let the games begin: Eight matches that will shape the Rugby World Cup

Let the games begin: Eight matches that will shape the Rugby World Cup
Freddie Steward of England during a training session at Stade Ferdinand Petit on 5 September 2023 in Le Touquet-Paris-Plage, France. (Photo: Dan Mullan / Getty Images)

Daily Maverick highlights the biggest matches of the Rugby World Cup (RWC) pool phase that could determine who qualifies for the playoffs. Four of them are on the opening weekend.

France vs New Zealand: 8 September, St Denis

Both sides will be desperate to make a statement in the opening match of the tournament. France need to start well in front of their home fans, while the All Blacks need to bounce back in the wake of a record 35-7 defeat to the Springboks at Twickenham. The winner of this clash should go on to top Pool A – barring a loss to Italy, Namibia or Uruguay – and ensure that they avoid the “strongest” qualifier from Pool B in the quarterfinals.

France’s Damien Penaud (C) and Australia’s Carter Gordon (L) in action during the Rugby Test match between France and Australia at the Stade de France in Saint-Denis, France, 27 August 2023. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Yoan Valat)

England vs Argentina: 9 September, Marseille

England have dropped to eighth place in the World Rugby rankings following their recent defeat to Fiji at home. Expectations have been tempered ahead of their World Cup campaign, and they will go into their first clash as the underdogs against a resurgent Argentina. If the Pumas win this match, they should take control of Pool D, which also includes Japan, Samoa and newcomers Chile, and secure a less challenging path to the semifinals.

South Africa vs Scotland: 10 September, Marseille

The Boks (second in the rankings) will face Scotland (fifth) in the “Pool of Death” opener in Marseille. The winner of this game will increase their chances of qualifying for the playoffs – and facing France or New Zealand in the quarterfinals – while the loser will head into the next big clash with Ireland (first) needing a victory to advance.

Grant Williams during the South Africa national men’s rugby team training session at Rugby Club Toulonnais on 5 September 2023 in Toulon, France. (Photo: Steve Haag Sports / Gallo Images)

Wales vs Fiji: 10 September, Bordeaux

Fiji have added a few more layers to their game since competing in Japan four years ago, and are expected to secure at least one upset win at the tournament in France. The islanders’ rise has corresponded with Wales’ decline – with Warren Gatland’s side currently ranked 10th in the world. If Fiji win this big Pool C fixture, they should pick up subsequent victories against Georgia and Portugal to advance to the quarterfinals for the first time since 2007. If Wales lose, they will head into their next big game against Australia needing a win to keep their qualification hopes alive.

South Africa vs Ireland: 23 September, St Denis

Apart from the opening game between France and New Zealand, this could well be the biggest game of the pool phase. Ireland should secure wins against Romania and Tonga, and if the Boks beat Scotland and Romania, the two sides will be neck-and-neck at the top of Pool B. The winner of this match will edge ahead in that race. Oh, and it’s No. 1 against No. 2 on the world rankings (at the start of the tournament).

Wales vs Australia: 24 September, Lyon

Australia have lost all five of their matches to date in 2023. They should be too strong for Georgia, though, as well as Fiji – who may be targeting the game against Wales rather than the subsequent match against the two-time champions. Eddie Jones’ side should build up a head of steam ahead of the crunch Pool C clash against Wales. The Wallabies will be gunning for a win that strengthens their bid for a top-place finish – and a quarterfinal match-up against the second-placed team in Pool D, which could well be England or Samoa. Depending on Wales’ result against Fiji in the first round, the Dragons may be scrambling for survival at this point.

Australia’s Rob Leota (L) in action during the Rugby Test match between France and Australia at the Stade de France in Saint-Denis, France, 27 August 2023. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Yoan Valat)

England vs Samoa: 7 October, Lille

England have been written off by their own media in the lead-up to the World Cup, with some going as far as to claim that Steve Borthwick’s side will lose to Japan and Samoa, and fail to qualify for the playoffs. Japan have declined since hosting the World Cup in 2019, but Samoa – who have been bolstered by a clutch of high-profile stars – will take some beating during the pool phase. If Argentina beat England on the opening weekend of the tournament, and Samoa collect wins against Chile and Japan, then the final pool clash between the islanders and England will be a knockout fixture, with the winner advancing to face the top-placed side in Pool C.

Ireland vs Scotland: 7 October, St Denis

The result of this game may decide whether Ireland, Scotland and even South Africa qualify for the playoffs. 

If the Boks beat Scotland in their first fixture and then lose to Ireland, they may need the Irish to down the Scots in order to qualify for the playoffs. If Scotland beat Ireland, and if all of the top-ranked Pool B sides finish the group phase with the same number of wins, then the final standings may be determined by bonus points and points difference (a similar scenario will unfold if the Boks lose to Scotland, but beat Ireland – as they will then need Scotland to down Ireland in the latter game in Paris). 

If the Boks beat both Celtic nations, however, and go on to bank wins against Romania and Tonga, they will top Pool B and face the runners-up in Pool A – which will in all likelihood be the loser of the tournament opener between France and the All Blacks. DM

Read more in Daily Maverick: Rugby World Cup 2023

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • JAJ Stewart says:

    Let the schpilkes begin!

  • Steve Davidson says:

    Bit of an unfortunate lead picture. Steward is almost as dirty a player as Farrell. His red card (quite rightly from Jaco Peyper even though the poms managed to have it overturned) for a terrible tackle on Keenan in the Irish game last season was followed up with an equally bad mid air one on the Welsh wing in the warm up game a few weeks ago that he got off with a yellow card that should have been a red. And the poms tried to say the Welshman deliberately jumped in the air to kick him in the head! (Trying to catch the ball on Nogal.)

  • lancekong says:

    To avoid confusion regarding the final outcome of pools, as perhaps might occur from the explanation in the section ‘Ireland vs Scotland’, here are the official rules of the ‘Pool Phase Standings’:

    At the end of the pool stages, if two teams are level on points (which include bonus points) the following criteria determine their final standings:
    The winner of the match between two tied teams is ranked higher.
    The team with the best points difference in the pool stages is ranked higher.
    The team with the best difference between tries scored and tries conceded in the pool stages is ranked higher.
    The team which has scored the most points in the pool stages is ranked higher.
    The team which has scored the most tries in the pool stages is ranked higher.
    Should the teams still remain level after steps 1-5, official World Rugby Rankings on a set date will determine the higher ranked team.

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